“We are leaving today! Today, today, today! Today, we leave for America. Today, I get to start a new life.”
Ring! Ring! A groan leaves my parched lips. I don’t want to get out of my cozy bed. I blink my eyes once, twice, then they fully open.
Then, I look around my room and see the suitcases lying there. Everything comes back to me. We are leaving today! Today, today, today! Today, we leave for America. Today, I get to start a new life. Not that I don’t like my old life, but still! We are going to America where the streets are paved with gold! I pull on my dress and run down the hall of our little apartment. We are leaving for America, for a better life.
When my mom told me we were moving, I was confused. I already have a great life here in France, I thought. But apparently, she got a really good new job there, and I can go to a really good school in America. At first, I was sad to go, but now I am really excited to go to a new place and start a new life.
“Salut, Mère,” I say to my mom.
“Bonjour, Chloe. Your breakfast is waiting.”
I live in France, but my family speaks a lot of English. I learn English in school, and my mom knows a lot, so we speak it at home too. I hope what I know is enough to get me through school in America. A crepe is waiting for me on the table.
“Happy moving day!!” says my mom.
All is quiet for a second. We live alone. I am an only child, and my père, or Dad, died fighting in the Vietnam War. But that was 11 years ago. I was two when my dad died. I barely remember him.
We board the plane three hours later. It’s super cold inside.
Why do planes have such powerful air conditioning? I thought as I settle down in my seat and pop a piece of gum in my mouth. When I bite down, a rainbow of flavors bust into my mouth.
Soon, I hear the engine spurring to life. The plane rolls forwards, moving faster and faster. Suddenly, I am thrown back into my seat. My long, auburn hair flies around my face.
“Ahh!!” I scream.
“Calmez-vous, Chloe. We are taking flight.”
My ears pop. I’ve never been in an airplane before. I knew I would probably be surprised, but not this surprised. Oh well. I take out my book and start reading.
A little while later, we level out. We’re not going up anymore. The plane speeds forward, but I can’t feel a thing. It feels like we aren’t moving at all.
Some ladies dressed in blue aprons come my way. They are pushing a cart around with lots of drinks. The ladies say something complicated to me, and they say it quickly. I can’t understand them.
“Sorry, I don’t speak English very well,” I say.
One of the ladies says, “Do you want a drink?”
Seriously, this plane is flying from France. They should know that not everyone speaks English.
As the flight continues on, I think about America and what life there will be like. I will go to a middle school near our house in Florida. As I think about my new life, I get more worried and nervous.
What if I don’t fit in? What if I am shunned because of my accent? Or because I’m not used to their ways? I wonder. I was popular back in France, but what if America isn’t the same?
In France, I was popular because I had all the cool stuff, and I matched well with all the other girls. But America is very different. I want to fit in. I want to be popular, but I’m different.
Ay, ay, ay! I am going to ruin the excitement of America if I keep thinking like this! Then, I think of something else.
“Mère, I don’t totally know fluent English. How will I talk right? I also can’t spell in English. I can’t really read, too.”
As I speak, I know I made a few mistakes.
“Chloe, ne t’inquiète pas,” my mom says. “Don’t worry. You will get help from your teachers. They know French. You see, in the school you are going to, the kids are all from different places and countries. This school is meant to help kids learn English. You’ll be fine.”
Well, that solves the English problem, I thought. But I’m still worried about fitting in.
Around me, the plane starts to drop. My stomach jumps into my throat.
“Whoa!” I say.
Planes are so crazy!
We arrive in Stuart, Florida, at night.
“Mère, our house is far from here. Where will we sleep?” I ask.
“We will stay in un hôtel near the airport,” my mom says.
So, we end up staying in a hot, dirty, and tiny hotel. There is only one light to light up the whole room. Worst hotel ever! I don’t know if the stuff is more fancy in France or what, but I hope everything in America isn’t this bad.
I climb into the tiny bed that is mine for the night and close my eyes. I can hear rats and mice scuttling around somewhere. I think I felt something fuzzy brush up against my arm, but maybe it was just my imagination. I open my eyes and see the dirty ceiling. Then my eyes jump to the cracked light bulb, then the tiny bed with the soiled sheets.
Ugh, I thought.
Good news! Not all the places in America are as bad as that dinky old hotel. Our house is in a nice, suburban neighborhood that looks a lot like my friend Celeste’s neighborhood back in France. All the lawns are perfect, and the houses are painted in cool colors. I hear birds chirping in the trees. Then, I start to smell smoke.
“Mom, je sens la fumée.”
“The smoke that you smell is from the neighbor’s grill,” my mom explains. “A grill is something you can use to cook food outside. It smells like smoke, but it is safe.”
We step inside our new house. It has the smell of when you step into your house after a vacation. It smells inviting. I run up the stairs to my room. The room isn’t that big, but at least it’s bigger than my old room in our apartment in France. The walls are painted a pretty shade of purple. The room is bare, though. Our moving truck was loaded after we left the airport, so it will be here in half an hour. I can’t wait to see all my stuff set up in my new room. I look around my room and start to plan in my head where everything will go.
I didn’t realize how much time had passed when my mom called from downstairs. “Chloe, the camion en mouvement is here. Come get your stuff from the moving truck,” she says.
Yay! The moving truck! I thought as I run downstairs. I grab a few boxes and run back up to my room. Inside the first box, I find all my clothes, which I hang in the closet. At the bottom of the box, I find my stuffed animal, Shimmer the Unicorn. I haven’t really used her since I was eight. My mom must have packed her when I wasn’t looking.
My mom and I spent the next week unpacking everything and getting used to our new home. As the first day of school nears, I get even more worried about fitting in. School starts in only one and a half weeks! At least I am starting at the beginning of the year, so everyone will be new to the grade. But, I am starting 8th grade, so everyone else in will have already known each other for last two years.
“Il est l’heure de déjeuner, Chloe,” my mom calls. “It’s your favorite: mac and cheese!”
“Merci!” I call back.
I really want to know what school will be like, because I like to always have a plan in my head. But I guess I will just have to wait and see.
“Au revoir, Mom.”
“Bye, Chloe. Have fun at school. You have all your books, right?”
“Oui, Mère. Yes.”
I rush onto the bus and move towards the back, looking for a seat. I see two girls sitting together.
“Can I sit on here?” I ask in my bad English.
The girls are silent, and they don’t move to make room for me. I continue walking. I notice that my dress looks very different from all the other girls who are wearing tank tops and shorts. I see a girl that looks my age sitting by herself. When she sees me, she scoots over to make room.
“Hello,” I say. “I’m Chloe.”
“Hi,” the girl says. “Solo hablo español.”
“Oh, you only speak Spanish,” I say. “Hablo francés y ingles y un poco de español.”
I can speak Spanish too because my school in France taught us lots of languages. I told the girl that I speak French, English, and some spanish.
“My name Isabella,” the girl says.
Maybe she does speak some English, too.
We ride in silence for the rest of the trip. When we arrive at school, I follow the map to my classroom. I sit down in homeroom, and the teacher starts talking. She says that the classes I will be in are with the kids that speak Spanish and the kids that speak French, because the people who teach those classes know both languages. Also, French and Spanish are similar languages. That means that Isabella will probably be in my classes.
I look around the room and see her sitting a few rows away. I catch her eye, and I wave.
My classes are all pretty similar today. Isabella is in all my classes except music. I have sept classes, which is “seven” in French. It is weird because in France, we only had four classes. It’s sort of hard to rush around, getting from class to class using the one map I have. I don’t even know what most of the school looks like!
In our classes, the teachers explain what we are learning in that class, and they help us get used to the school. There are multiple teachers in each class to make sure that everyone understands everything. I don’t really need much help to understand things, which is good. I hope it means I will fit in better.
“Hi, Mom,” I say as I walk back into our new house.
“Bonjour, ma chère,” says my mom. “How was your first day of school?”
“It was bien. Actually, it was really good. I met a girl who speaks Spanish on the bus.”
“Cool. How were your classes?”
“Good, but kinda boring. The teachers are just laying out a schedule for us now.”
“And you could understand all the English correctly, right?”
“Yes. There were people there to help, just like you said.”
“Just like I said,” my mom agreed.
I know that even though the first day of school went well, school will only get harder for me. There is more in store for me, like fitting in. And trying to become popular.
“Hey, Mom?” I call down the stairs.
“Can we go to the shopping place this weekend? I want new clothes.”
“Yes, we can go on Saturday.”
I want to get some tank tops and shorts, and other American clothes, so I can fit in more. But I don’t tell her that.
The next day at lunch, Isabella and I are sitting with each other. We are trying to explain our lives to each other, but it is kinda hard because I don’t know much Spanish, and she barely understands my French. French and Spanish are similar, but still different.
As we are talking, the two girls from the bus that wouldn’t let me sit with them sashay up to our table. There are a few other girls behind them.
“Hey, French girl, who is this little girl you’ve got with you?” says one of them.
“Her name is Isabella. She only speaks Spanish.”
“Oh. Tell Isabella that her outfit looks stupid. Yours does, too.”
“Bye, weirdos,” say the mean girls.
I can tell they are the popular girls because of the group of girls following them. I don’t want to be mean to them back. If they are popular, and they really don’t like me, I will never be popular too.
“Sólo eran malos,” I tell Isabella.
I tell her that they are just being mean, and that they won’t do it again. I know that’s not true.
At the end of lunch, Isabella gets up to throw away her trash. As she walks, I notice that her shoes are untied. She trips on the laces and starts to fall.
“Isabella, watch out!” I call, but it is too late.
Isabella’s trash goes flying, and it lands on, of all people, the mean girls. At first, the girls stare at Isabella, wide eyed. They seem to be saying with their faces, Did you just do that? Then, they sneer at Isabella and walk away.
That night, when Mom asks how my day was, I say it was good. I don’t tell her about the mean girls insulting me, and Isabella dumping her trash on them. I know that she will want to talk it over with me and ask me about how it hurt my feelings, which it did. But I don’t want mom to be worry about me. I want something of my own that I don’t have to share with her. Also, if I tell her, she might report the girls to the principal, and the girls won’t ever forgive me for that.
I want them to like me so I can be popular. So I decide to keep my mouth shut.
In the next few weeks, the mean girls just get meaner and meaner. They torment Isabella and me whenever they can. It hurts our feelings a lot.
Once, one of the the girls walked up to me and said, “Hey, you know that tomato that your friend spilled on my new fancy shirt? That tomato stain was just what I was going for. It really made my shirt look great.”
Sarcasm, I thought.
I know Isabella, and I need to do something about the tormenting, but I just want the girls to like me.
Isabella and I have been learning how to communicate better with each other. We now know that we live only two blocks away from each other. Isabella and I visit each other often and, as the days go on, I teach Isabella more English.
We know we have to do something about the mean girls and, after a lot of thinking, we finally have a plan. We are going to stand up to them and tell them they are being mean. We are also going to try to get the neutral girls, the ones who ignore the popular girls, on our side. I don’t really like the plan of standing up to the mean girls, but I guess it’s what we have to do.
I start getting the neutral girls on our side by being really friendly to all of them. I fit in more with them because I got those new clothes that are in style in America. Also, I wear my hair down now instead of in a braid like I did in France. I’m really glad I’m starting to fit in. Isabella and I are still trying to figure out this new land that I now know isn’t really paved with gold.
One Saturday, a month after the start of school, I do some thinking about my new life. It hasn’t gone at all like I planned. Some parts are much worse then I expected, like not really fitting in, not being popular, and being tormented by the mean girls. I still have a bad accent, and my English is not perfect, so it’s still hard for me to fit in.
Then, I think, do those problems really matter? Do I really need to fit in to have a fun middle school experience? Is being an oddball really such a bad thing? Do I really care about what the mean girls say?
Then, I realized that I don’t. It doesn’t matter. I’m still as beautiful and popular as always even when they insult me. I realize that their mean words won’t hurt me if I don’t let them hurt me.
I feel like that old saying, sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me. I also realize that maybe I can live with people thinking I’m an oddball. I can be unique. And even though the popular girls act like it, no one ever said that being unique was a bad thing.
The next Saturday, I go to the mall with my mom to cheer myself up. I’m feeling down from a particularly bad tormenting session from the mean girls yesterday, whose names are Sabrina and Ashley. After getting some cute, new outfits and new lip gloss, I feel much better. Mom even let me get a tube of real lipstick, because she knew I was feeling down. I also realized that fitting in didn’t matter as much as I thought, and over the weeks, Isabella and I have both really improving in English. This really cheered me up.
When we got home, I was in a much better mood than I was when we left for the mall. I am practically skipping by the time I walk over to Isabella’s house later that day. I smell the sweet, humid air. I see the sun shining through the trees and reflecting beautifully off a neighbor’s pond. The flowers dance in such a way that fills my heart with joy. The sweet song of the birds is a lovely sound that makes this neighborhood feel like home.
And now it is. I think I can live with that.
I ring Isabella’s doorbell, and a few minutes later, she opens the door.
“Hello, Chloe,” Isabella says.
“Hola, Isabella. Cómo estás?” I say, which means, “How are you?”
“Muy bien. Very well,” says Isabella.
She is, slowly but surely, learning English. I tell Isabella what I have been thinking about our problem with the popular girls. I tell her that I can live with being different, and we need to stand up to Ashley and Sabrina. I won’t let them bother me anymore.
It’s time to put our plan into action.
“Friday?” I ask Isabella as I leave her front door two and a half hours later.
“Friday,” she says.
That is the day we will stand up for ourselves. Later that night, I think about how I still want to be popular. But I know that’s not going to happen if I stand up to the mean girls. Maybe we shouldn’t do this plan.
But we have to! It’s the only way to get Ashley and Sabrina to stop.
But I guess I still do want to fit in.
As I climb into bed, I see Shimmer, my stuffed unicorn, across the room. I run over to her, pick her up, and go back to my bed with her. Sometimes you need a stuffie, even when you’re thirteen years old.
On Friday, at lunch, I sit at my table with Isabella and a few more friends we’ve managed to make. It has been hard to make friends because everyone knows that if they sit at our table, they will be bullied by the mean girls too. Everyone else already has friends from the previous years.
Lunch continues as normal… for now. In a few minutes, Ashley and Sabrina will come to our table, followed by their gang of popular girls. But today, we are ready. Ashley and Sabrina are like mice, being led into our trap. We are ready for them today because we are going to stand up for ourselves.
As Ashley and Sabrina walk up to my table, I review the plan in my head one more time.
“Hi, weirdos,” Ashley and Sabrina say in a nasty sounding voice.
“Hi, girls,” I say. I try to say it sweetly and all nice-sounding.
“I like your lipstick,” Ashley says. “Is it like, barf flavor?”
“Yeah, ‘cause I’m about to vomit,” says Sabrina.
Yes! I think to myself. That insult works really well with our plan.
I shoot up from my seat and say, “Did you just tell me that my lipstick is gonna make you barf? ‘Cause if you think about it, that is sorta stupid.”
“Yeah,” Isabella said, even though she probably didn’t understand what was happening.
“Haha, that is really stupid,” say one of the girls at my table.
“Wait,” another girl adds, “Ashley just said she liked Chloe’s lipstick because it looked like barf. That’s… a strange reason to like lipstick.”
“Bahaha!!” some of the other girls at the other tables, and even a few boys, burst out in laughter. Ashley and Sabrina have a baffled look on their faces.
“Yes!” I whisper to Isabella.
Our plan is working perfectly so far.
After most of the giggling quieted down, I start the next step of our plan.
“But what you said was also really mean,” I say to Ashley and Sabrina. “A lot of the things you guys say are really hurtful. And we don’t like it.”
“Yeah, you’re just plain mean,” says Isabella.
I told her to say that, but it still has an effect.
“You hurt my feelings a lot,” another girl says.
“I have never heard you guys say anything nice to anyone before, except to the teachers,” another girl says.
“Yeah. Your insults are really hurtful,” says someone else.
All of a sudden, people start bursting out with memories of when Ashley and Sabrina were mean to them.
“I remember when you called me…”
“There was the time when you said my shoes…”
“It hurt my feelings a lot when you guys…”
They say more, but I stop listening. I’m thinking about how well this is going and how good it feels to get the weight of the tormenting off of my shoulders. It’s good to know that Ashley and Sabrina have been mean to other people too. I look up to see Ashley and Sabrina, staring up at everyone, completely shocked.
“Wow, I did know we insulted so many people,” Ashley says.
“And hurt so many people feelings,” Sabrina adds.
“Yeah, you really did,” I say. I look at the girls behind them. “Hey, I know you support Ashley and Sabrina because it makes you popular, but do you really like them?”
“Actually, even though we’re considered friends and everything,” says Courtney, another popular girl, “you two are still pretty mean to me.”
“I feel the same way,” a few of the other poplar girls chimed in.
Ashley and Sabrina are still completely in shock by this whole thing. I can tell that they were thinking that maybe they shouldn’t have been this mean.
“Maybe we shouldn’t have insulted people feelings as much,” Sabrina finally says.
“I don’t really care if we insult people,” says Ashley.
“But if you don’t care, then why do you do it?” I ask.
“Uh… um… uh…” Ashley stammers.
“Sabrina?” I say.
“I… don’t really know,” says Sabrina.
“Does hurting other people’s feelings make you feel better about yourselves?”
“No,” says Sabrina.
“Sometimes,” says Ashley.
“Does being mean make you look better or worse?” I fire at them.
“Worse, I guess,” they say.
“Then, do you agree with me that maybe you shouldn’t be mean anymore?”
“Yes?” says Sabrina.
“Kind of?” says Ashley.
“No more meanies! No more meanies!” Isabella starts chanting.
I didn’t tell her to do that! I didn’t even know she could say that in english. But still, it catches on. The other girls at my table start chanting to, and it spread to the other kids. Soon, all around me I hear students chanting.
“No more meanies! No more meanies!”
“Okay, I will try to not insult people anymore, and be nicer,” says Sabrina.
“I guess I will too,” says Ashley.
“Do you guys agree not to torment new kids or kids from other countries, just because they are different?”
“Yes. I realize that I was pretty mean,” says Sabrina.
“I guess so,” says Ashley.
“Peace out, haters,” Isabella and I say.
After that, everyone settles back down, and lunch continues as usual. Near the end of lunch, at cleanup time, I look under the tables and see Courtney untying her shoes.
Why is she doing that? I wonder. But soon enough, I know why. As Courtney gets up to throw away her trash, she trips on her untied shoelace. Her trash files everywhere and most of it lands on Ashley and Sabrina.
“Not again!” Isabella exclaims.
Courtney tries to hide a smirk. Sabrina and Ashley glare at Courtney, but keep their mouths shut. I guess they are still to baffled by this whole thing.
On the bus ride home, I sit with Isabella
“Oh my god! Our plan worked so well!” I say.
“Todos nos ayudan mucho!” Isabella tells me that the other students help us a lot.
“Yeah, they did,” I say.
“¿Crees que Ashley y Sabrina dejarán de ser malos?” says Isabella.
“I think Sabrina will stop being mean, but maybe not Ashley,” I reply.
“I think so, too,” says Isabella.
Her English is much better than before. We continue talking about Sabrina, Ashley, and Courtney until it is time for me to get off of the bus. When I walk into the house a few minutes later, I am greeted by the smell of fresh baked macarons.
“I’ve made macarons for you,” says my mom.
We used to bake pastries together.
“Merci, Mère,” I tell her.
I grab a macaron and sit at the table. The macarons taste sweet and tangy at the same time. They are really good.
“So, how was your day?” she asks. She asks this every day.
“It was really good,” I say.
What I don’t tell her is that we stood up to Ashley and Sabrina today. She still doesn’t know anything about them. I don’t think she’ll ever know.
That weekend, I keep thinking about what I said to Ashley and Sabrina. I think that Sabrina is going to act a lot nicer now that she realizes how many people’s feelings she has hurt. I don’t know about Ashley, though. When she said she wasn’t going to be mean anymore, she wasn’t very convincing. I know that now that I have stood up to Ashley, she is never going to let me be popular.
But now, I also know that I don’t really care about being popular. I also don’t care as much about fitting in. I know that being unique is okay. Sometimes, it is even a good thing.
On Monday, I am sitting with Isabella on the bus when something surprising happens. We are just sitting there, and the bus stops at a stop. Then, someone gets up from their seat and walks over to our seat. It is Sabrina.
What is she doing here? I think.
“Hi, guys,” Sabrina says.
She sits down with us.
“Hi,” I say. “What are you doing here? Don’t you usually sit with Ashley?”
“Yeah, but I want to talk to you guys.”
“Standing up to me and Ashley was a really brave thing to do. I know that it’s not good to get on Ashley’s bad side, but you guys stood up anyway. That was a really brave thing to do.”
“Yeah, I guess it was,” I say.
“I know that you want to be popular,” confesses Sabrina. “But now that you stood up to Ashley, that is never going to happen.”
“I know, but I think I can live with that,” I tell her.
The next day at lunch, as all the kids rushed into the lunchroom, I see Courtney and wave. When I walk over to my table, Courtney follows me. She sits down at my table, next to Isabella. Then, I see Sabrina get up from her table and say something to Ashley. Then, she walks over to our table and sits down next to me. We chat together for the rest of lunch. Getting to know Sabrina was kinda fun.
The next day at lunch, everything is back to normal, but I could tell that things are different. Everyone is back at their normal tables, but Sabrina and Ashley don’t come up to insult us at all. I’m still not fitting in but, now, I realize that I didn’t need to fit in to be a good person. I have made friends, and having friends makes up for not fitting in. I am having lots of fun on the weekends with my friends, and I have started to do the activities that other American girls do. I know now that even though America is different, it is just as good as France, maybe even better.